© Image by Philip Simic

Charles Simic

(b. 1938)

"A good-tasting homemade stew of angel and beast." - Charles Simic

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • What the Grass Says, Kayak, 1967 - not in print
  • Somewhere among Us a Stone Is Taking Notes, Kayak, 1969 - not in print
  • Four Yugoslav Poets: Ivan V. Lalic, Branko Milijkovic, Milorad Pavic, Ljubomir Simovic (translator), Lillabulero Press, 1970 - not in print
  • Ivan V. Lalic, Fire Gardens: Selected Poems 1956-1969, (translator), New Rivers Press, 1970 - not in print
  • The Little Box: poems of Vasko Popa (translator), The Charioteer, 1970
  • Dismantling the Silence, Braziller/Jonathan Cape, 1971
  • White, New Rivers Press, 1972 - not in print
  • Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk, Braziller, 1974 - not in print
  • The Poetry of Surrealism: An Anthology (translator with others), Little, Brown and Company, 1974 - not in print
  • Biography and a Lament, Poems 1961-1967, Bartholomew's Cobble, 1976 - not in print
  • Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (editor with Mark Strand), Ecco Press, 1976 - not in print
  • Contemporary Yugoslav Poetry (translator), University of Iowa Press, 1977 - not in print
  • Charon's Cosmology, Braziller, 1977 - not in print
  • Djordje Nicolic, Key to Dreams According to Djordje (translator), Elpenor Books, 1978 - not in print
  • Vasko Popa, Homage to the Lame Wolf: Selected Poems 1956-1975 (translator), Oberlin College, 1979
  • Classic Ballroom Dances, Braziller, 1980 - not in print
  • White: A New Version, Logbridge-Rhodes Press, 1980 - not in print
  • Slavko Mihalic, Atlantis: Selected Poems 1953-1982 (translator with Peter Katmiler), Greenfield Review Press, 1983 - not in print
  • Austerities, Braziller/Secker and Warburg, 1982/1983 - not in print
  • Weather Forecast for Utopia and Vicinity, Poems 1967-1982, Station Hill Press, 1983 - not in print
  • The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays and Notes on Poetry, University of Michigan Press, 1985
  • Selected Poems, 1963-1983, Braziller/Secker and Warburg, 1986 - not in print
  • Unending Blues, Mariner Books; 1 edition (May 1987)
  • Selected Poems of Tomaz Salamun (translator), Ecco Press, 1988 - not in print
  • Roll Call of Mirrors: Selected Poems of Ivan V. Lalic (translator), Wesleyan University Press, 1988
  • The Essential Campion (editor), The Essential Poets Series, 7, Ecco Press, 1988 - not in print
  • Aleksandar Ristovic, Some Other Wine and Light (translator), Charioteer Press, 1989 - not in print
  • The World Doesn't End, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989
  • The Book of Gods and Devils, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990
  • Selected Poems, 1963-1983: Revised and Expanded, Braziller, 1990
  • Bright Moves, J. Allyn Rosser (editor), Northeastern University Press, 1990 - not in print
  • Wonderful Words, Silent Truth: Essays on Poetry and a Memoir, University of Michigan Press, 1990
  • Slavko Janevski, The Bandit Wind (translator), Dryad Press, 1991 - not in print
  • The Horse Has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry (translator), Graywolf Press, 1992
  • Novica Tadic, Night Mail (translator), Field Translation Series, 19, Oberlin College Press, 1992
  • Hotel Insomnia, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992
  • The Best American Poetry, 1992 (editor with David Lehman), Macmillan, 1992 - not in print
  • The Best American Poetry 1992 (editor), Scribners, 1993
  • The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs, University of Michigan Press, 1994
  • A Wedding in Hell, Harcourt Brace, 1994
  • Frightening Toys, Faber & Faber, 1995
  • Walking the Black Cat, Harcourt Brace, Thomson Learning, 1996
  • Looking for Trouble, Faber & Faber, 1997
  • Homage to Hat and Uncle Guide and Eliot, Tomaz Salamun (editor), Arc Publications, 1997
  • Scar on the Stone: Contemporary Poetry from Bosnia (translator with others), Bloodaxe Books, 1998
  • Orphan Factory (essays), University of Michigan Press, 1998
  • Alexsandar Ristovic, Devils' Lunch (translator), Faber and Faber, 1999
  • Jackstraws, Harcourt Brace/Faber & Faber, 1999
  • Selected Early Poems, Braziller, 1999
  • Deborah Tall, Summons: Poems (editor), Sarabande Books, 2000 - not in print
  • Tomaz Salamun, Feast (editor), Harcourt, 2000
  • A Fly in the Soup (essays), University of Michigan Press, 2000
  • Metaphysician in the Dark (essays), University of Michigan Press, 2000
  • Night Picnic, Harcourt, 2001
  • Horace: The Odes (translator with others), Princeton University Press, 2002
  • Charles Simic in Conversation with Michael Hulse, Between the Lines, 2002
  • The Voice at 3A.M.: Selected Later Poems, Harcourt, 2003
  • Selected Poems 1963-2003, Faber and Faber, 2004
  • A Wake for the Living: poems of Radmila Lazic (translator), Graywolf Press, 2004
  • New British Poetry (editor with Don Paterson), Graywolf Press, 2004
  • Aunt Lettuce I Want to Peek Under Your Skirt, Bloomsbury, 2005
  • My Noiseless Entourage, Harcourt, 2005
  • Charles Simic Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2006
  • Memory Piano (prose), University of Michigan, 2006
  • That Little Something, Harcourt, 2007
  • The Monster Loves his Labyrinth, Ausable Press, 2007
  • Thomas Campion: Poems selected by Charles Simic, Faber & Faber, 2007
Charles Simic (b. 1938) grew up in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia, a childhood in which "Hitler and Stalin taught us the basics". A new life began in 1954 when he and his mother were allowed to join his father in the United States. Simic attended school in Chicago and then began working at the Chicago Sun Times. During this period he started to write and publish poetry and was a passionate self-educator, attending many night-classes. After two years national service in the US army, Simic settled in New York, got married and continued to write, his first collection appearing in 1967. In the intervening period he has published over sixty books, amongst them Charon's Cosmology, nominated for a National Book Award, The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Jackstraws which was included on the New York Times' shortlist of Notable Books of the Year. He taught English and creative writing for more than thirty years at the University of New Hampshire. In 2007, Charles Simic was appointed to be the United States Library of Congress's 15th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

The critic, Helen Vendler, has described Simic as a "lover of food who has been instructed in starvation," hinting at the pleasures and privations which inform his work. As one of the "Bombed and fleeing humanity" ('Cameo Appearance') Simic was instilled from an early age with a deep distrust of absolutist thought. In defiance of ideology his poems brim with irreverence and scepticism, revelling in the "Juxtaposition of unlikely things...where one is bound to find an angel next to a pig." A serious surrealist, Simic draws us into a world in which a simple object like a fork can be transformed into nightmare. Unsettling encounters take place with the mad and the marginalised, often against a looming backdrop of darkness. Recurrent images - blood, flies, waiters, angels - hint at symbolism but without ever yielding one single interpretation. This uncertainty is at the heart of his vision which explores a universe of chance, "the world's raffle" ('Shelley'), in which either everything is planned...or nothing is.

Simic reads in a voice redolent of the history that haunts his poetry, an accent equal parts Serbian and New York twang. It embodies the rich tensions in his work, rooted both in the folklore traditions of Eastern Europe, yet at home amongst the wise-cracking rhythms of his adopted city.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 19 November 2003 in New York City and was produced by Jeffrey Wertz.

Charles Simic's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Poetry tries to bridge the abyss lying between the name and the thing. That language is a problem is no news to poets." - Charles Simic

"No man whose sex life was satisfactory ever became a moral censor." - Mina Loy

"I'm in the business of translating what cannot be translated: being and its silence." - Charles Simic

"Even as I concentrate all my attention on the fly on the table, I glance fleetingly at myself." - Charles Simic

"Cioran is right when he says that we are all religious spirits without a religion." - Cioran

"A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights." - Charles Simic


1970 PEN Award for Translation

1972 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship

1974 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

1975 Academy of American Poets Edgar Allan Poe Award

1976 The American Academy Award

1977 National Book Award - shortlist, Charon's Cosmology

1979 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Charon's Cosmology

1980 PEN Award for translation

1980 University of Chicago's Harriet Monroe Award, Classic Ballroom Dances

1980 Poetry Society of America - di Castagnola Award, Classic Ballroom Dances

1982 Fulbright Fellowship

1983 Ingram Merrill Foundation Fellowship

1984 MacArthur Fellowship

1990 Pulitzer Prize, The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems

1996 National Book Award - shortlist, Walking the Black Cat

1998 Academy of American Poets Fellowship

1999 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Jackstraws

2000 Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

2002 University of New Hampshire's Lindberg Award

2002 Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

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